Wales could be sitting on significant reserves of mineral wealth, says expert report
Wales is likely to be sitting on reserves of critical minerals that could be crucial to the nation’s future prosperity, according to research undertaken by the British Geological Survey (BGS).
The publicly funded body, regarded as the UK’s premier provider of objective and authoritative geoscientific data, has produced a report identifying areas of the UK that are believed to contain significant deposits of critical raw materials (CRMs), and which could potentially be mined.
The report represents one of the first steps in the UK Government’s critical minerals strategy, which aims to make the UK more resilient to disruption in critical mineral supply chains by accelerating the growth of domestic capability.
CRMs are those minerals seen as economically important, like those needed to make the batteries and semiconductors that are vital for the clean energy transition, and that are at the greatest risk of supply chain disruption.
The UK has 18 metals and minerals on its CRM list, with another six materials classed as having elevated criticality. These are almost exclusively obtained from mining and refining operations in other countries, although tungsten has been mined in the UK in recent years.
Dr Kathryn Goodenough, co-author of the report and BGS principal geologist, said: “Mining in the UK has a long history and many of the prospective areas have been mined before. For example, the Llŷn Peninsula of north Wales was mined for many years for manganese, which was originally important for steel making. In the future, the manganese deposits could be important for battery production.”
BGS used a mineral systems approach to its research, relying on the concept that minerals of a certain type are formed by a combination of particular geological processes. The team identified the geological processes necessary to form CRM deposits and mapped these criteria against the UK’s available datasets, which include maps of the geology, soil and sediment geochemistry, and mineral occurrences.
The report’s authors stress that identifying an area as prospective does not necessarily mean it will be targeted for exploration and mining.
Eimear Deady, another of the co-authors, said: “Our report identifies the parts of the UK where the geological criteria have been met and therefore have the potential for deposits to occur. There are no guarantees.
“The report focuses on the geological evidence and does not consider potential constraints on development, for example where there are areas of outstanding beauty, villages and towns, or other environmental considerations.
“Much more research is required and, if prospectors find evidence of commercially viable CRM deposits, they will have to go through the well-established planning process. Only one in a thousand potential mineral exploration projects ever becomes an operating mine. The areas we have identified, along with other parts of the UK, are underexplored and we need more systematic research to understand the potential availability of CRMs in the UK.”
Dr Goodenough said: “Mining in the UK stretches back to prehistoric times. Currently, gold, barite, fluorite, gypsum, potash and polyhalite are among the minerals being mined. Exploration for many raw materials is occurring across the whole of the UK.
Some CRMs, like lithium, tin and graphite, are typically the primary products of mines. Others are produced as co- or by-products. Where mining develops for other commodities, it is always important that miners also assess the potential for CRMs in their deposits.
“Other countries like Canada, the USA, Norway, Sweden and Finland are also mapping their own geological potential as they too understand the risk of continuing to rely entirely on global supply chains for minerals that are absolutely vital to our way of life.”
Jonathan Edwards, the MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, who has taken a particular interest in the work of the BGS, said: “The challenges of net zero and the transition to electric technology is leading to a global rush for the critical raw materials required.
“It is understandable therefore that the UK Government has set up a Critical Minerals Intelligence Centre tasked with ensuring that the UK has sufficient supplies of essential materials required. As a part of this work, the British Geological Survey has been commissioned to audit deposits within the British state available for exploitation.
“The UK has 18 metals and minerals on its Critical Minerals List. The work of the BGS indicates that eight geographical areas in the UK have been identified as holding deposits identified as critical by UK Ministers.
“A substantial part of Wales including the northwest, mid Wales to the north of Carmarthenshire, southeast Wales and the west of Pembrokeshire have been identified as potential areas for exploitation.
“While there is no immediate prospect or guarantee of exploitation, considering the urgency of securing these metals and materials matters could move very quickly.
“There is nothing new in Wales being an area rich in the resources required to power the UK economy. With a significant part of our country designated by the UK Government and its agencies as an area of interest when it comes to the critical raw minerals of the future, we cannot let the mistakes of the past be repeated. Any exploitation must benefit Welsh communities and Welsh citizens directly.”
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